LFT Legislative Director Alison Ocmand speaks at a press conference in support of two bills that would help rebuild Louisiana's crumbing education infrastructure. With Ocmand are Representative Karen Carter Peterson, left, and Senator Cheryl Gray Evans.
Union working with lawmakers to create statewide school building authority
Louisiana's elementary and secondary schools are in deplorable condition - an estimate by the American Federation of Teachers pegs the cost of needed repairs and new construction at some $7.3 billion.
Two bills working their way through the legislature this year provide an answer to the problem. SB 90 by Sen. Cheryl Gray Evans (D-New Orleans) and HB 689 by Rep. Karen CarterPeterson (D-New Orleans) would set up and fund the Louisiana Statewide Education Facilities Authority.
The seven-member commission would provide funding, coordination, assistance and oversight for the repair, renovation and construction of public school facilities. Identical legislation was passed by the legislature last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Bobby Jindal.
Opponents say that school buildings are traditionally the responsibility of local school boards and voters, and say they are concerned that the commission would make local governments too reliant on state government to solve their problems.
But as Ocmand said in her statement to the news media, “When we consider the enormity of the problem, it is obvious that very few, if any, school systems have the resources to provide the kind of schools that all of our children deserve. We can no longer assume that building and maintaining schools is solely a local issue. The state and the federal government must play a role in replacing our crumbling schools.
“If you travel the state today,” Ocmand said, “you will see school after school that does not meet even minimal standards. Ask yourselves if you would want to spend up to eight hours a day working under the conditions we impose on our children. If the answer is no, then you can understand why passage of these bills, SB 90 by Sen. Gray Evans and HB 689 by Representative Carter Peterson, is so important.” To read Alison Ocmand’s complete comments, please click here.
Ocmand made available two recent studies by the American Federation of Teachers. One of them “School Infrastructure Funding Needs,” is a state-by-state analysis of the money required to make school buildings adequate. The study concludes that, all told, American needs to spend $254.6 billion to make elementary and secondary schools meet the needs of their students. At $7.3 billion, Louisiana ranks 13th on the list. To read the AFT study on school infrastructure funding needs, please click here.
The second AFT study is titled “Our Union’s Road Map to Green and Sustainable Schools.”
“We know that green, environmentally sustainable schools save money,” Ocmand said. “Energy-efficient buildings keep skyrocketing energy costs in check, which in turn frees money for academic and student support services. But ‘going green’ is about much more than just saving money: Green schools mean healthier environments for students and staff. Research shows that better environmental quality yields more productive human beings and greater academic achievement for all students. To read the AFT study on green and sustainable schools, please click here.
Wednesday’s press conference was coordinated by the Cowen Institute at Tulane University, a think tank dedicated to creating and advancing solutions to the problems facing public education in Louisiana. The institute has supplied much of the research used by Sen. Evans and Rep. Peterson in crafting their bills.